Wednesday, February 09, 2005

My new girlfriend: Securing her future


Delta Solar
National Air and Space Museum Photo

Ever since I was a little girl, I've enjoyed riding on city buses. I enjoy looking at the interesting sights outside, and I enjoy talking to the interesting people inside. Today's ride made my heart sing.

I was riding on the number 30 bus in Washington, D.C., having more fun than a groupie at an Alicia Keys concert. Why? Because I was doing an Art Linkletter.

Talking with young children always brightens my day. Their sense of the world is sometimes more thought provoking than that of sage adults. And it always makes me laugh.

Learning from a five year old is a humbling experience that I cherish. Feeling a challenge to secure her future? -priceless!

Today was a temperate winter day in the nation’s capital. The flat, intense blue sky called for sunglasses. As I waited at the bus stop on Wisconsin Avenue near the Russian Embassy, I played my favorite imagery game: "Where do these people work and what societal problems will they work on today?" In this game, I try to guess what people do for a living by examining the amount of strain on their faces.

Everyone looked up from their paper on cue as the bus’ wheels screeched to a stop. I scaled the steep steps and plopped onto a seat in the front row between a napping woman and a little girl.

The girl was talking to a woman in an adjacent seat about what they planned to do today, as mothers and children often do. But at the next stop, the woman exited alone.

The intrigue piqued when the woman on the other side of me also left the girl behind. They had been discussing kindergarten curricula.

I’d vicariously been enjoying conversations between the bright little girl and both women. Her comments were clear and logical. By eavesdropping, I learned that the girl was five years old. But my enjoyment was inconsequential to my concern for her well being. Was she riding the bus alone?

Finally, it was my turn to be captivated. "Where are you going today?" I asked.

"My mother’s taking me to the doctor as soon as she’s through driving the bus," she explained.

She said she was five year old. "I go to kindergarden," she added with enthusiasm. She told me her name was Antonai. Her best friend’s name was Shaylin. They like to have tea parties.

Antonai was wearing crisp loose fitting blue jeans with a generous five-inch cuff. Very clever shopping on her mother’s part, I thought. They’ll last through this year’s growth spurt. She wore a bright white shirt under a stylish blue knit poncho. Her eyes sparkled under a cap of neat braids reminiscent of Xhosa girls on the Karoo in South Africa.

Antonai told me in remarkable detail what the pediatrician would be assessing today during her annual checkup. She would interrupt herself on occasion to describe a landmark we were passing. She was articulate and knowledgeable. She was a good tour guide. I sensed a love of her hometown.

She described an intense kindergarden core course. I gave her one- and two-digit numbers to add and "take away." She delighted in being able to calculate the answers quickly.

She lost an equation when her gaze became fixed on a large sculpture in front of the Air and Space Museum at the corner of Independence Avenue and Seventh Street. The sun refracting off Alejandro Otero’s stainless steel sculpture captured my stare, too. Parts of the sculpture move when the wind grabs the triangular sails that turn inside the stainless steel cubes. The neat grid pattern of the cubes seems fitting for a museum that celebrates the precision of engineering.

"Delta Solar" appears to sit in what once was a shallow pool to reflect changing light patterns. Since Antonai was a local, I asked her why there was no water in the pool. She tilted her head and said, "Because it didn’t rain today."

A phone call to the museum this afternoon revealed the real answer. There was a problem years ago with the underground pipes that supplied water to the pool. But I somehow liked Antonai’s naïvely logical explanation better.

"I think the work represents the age of energy and space," I said; always in my mother teaching mode. "The Air and Space Museum and this kinetic sculpture are probably meant to show our control over nature." No response. Antonai had perhaps the best explanation - and the only one that counts. She titled her head and said, "I like it cause it's pretty and shiny."

That afternoon, I recognized an important parallel... Failure to share a sculptor’s vision is a bit like our failure to be engaged by the crisis survival issues we’ve identified at Lead Our Leaders: polarization, the war on terror, America’s deficits, wealth inequalities, and the need to preserve our environment while meeting our future energy needs.

It’s an audacious task, but we have to do it for Antonai. I’m confident that this bright and optimistic girl will be part of the solution. I hope you and I will be too.

I asked Antonai to write her favorite word on my pad of paper. Without hesitation she neatly wrote "c-a-n." With my thoughts reverting to the growls of my empty stomach I asked, "Do you prefer canned pears or canned peaches?" She cocked her head as if in thought. "Can’s my favorite word because I can do anything I want!" This produced her biggest smile during our time together. "Yes, you can!" I said.

Antonai's comments stimulated my thinking in unexpected ways. My stop on Independence Avenue came more quickly than I wanted.

Now I was the third woman leaving the little girl behind on the bus, while her mother worked behind the wheel.

As I climbed off the bus in front of the Longworth House Office Building, I reflected on whether I would receive the same sagacity and hopefulness from my member of Congress as I did from my new girlfriend.

SolutionGal has always found her time with kids to be uplifting – even on a down day. Mentoring can be short term or long term. It can even be the short length of a bus ride.


Dial 1.800.CHILD.44 for tips on talking to kids.

Mentoring tips

What are helpful websites you've found on mentoring or parenting skills?

What was an unforgettable uplifting experience you had with a five year old?

There’s no such thing as other people’s children. Hillary Rodham Clinton to Newsweek, 15 January 1996